Altered Conference (3-4 November, 2017 in Berlin) is an international gathering of consciousness explorers from all backgrounds to take part in talks, workshops and rituals on the subject of psychedelics, conscious practices, and social issues facilitated by leading experts and researchers. Interested in attending? Use code PSYCHEDELICFRONTIER which is good for a 20% discount.
At the conference, Dr. James Fadiman & Dr. Sophia Korb will provide a talk called about their microdosing research project, which has enrolled over a thousand subjects around the world. I caught up with Dr. Fadiman — a leading psychedelic researcher and author of the popular trip guide, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide — about his microdosing research, the future of psychedelics, and the themes of the upcoming conference.
Hi James, and welcome to the Psychedelic Frontier! Your upcoming talk at Altered Conference (in Berlin, 3-4 November 2017) looks absolutely fascinating.
I understand your global research project is all about microdosing with psychedelics. What exactly is microdosing, and why are people trying it?
JF: Microdosing is taking a very small amount of a psychedelic every few days. People are trying it because other people and the media are reporting that it seems to be beneficial for a wide variety of conditions, and, for well people, they report that it improves overall functioning.
What kinds of substances do people use? LSD, mushrooms, modern “research chemicals”? What would be a typical dose?
JF: People have reported to us their use of LSD, mushrooms, research chemicals that are similar to LSD, and other psychedelics. A typical dose is 1/10 to 1/20 of a “recreational dose.” With the LSD that would mean approximately 10 µg, for dried mushrooms 0.2 – 0.4 grams ,etc.
We have not looked at any use of DMT, or MDMA, 5-MeO, or any of the more exotic ones.
Let’s talk about the research. How many subjects who you have enrolled? What have you discovered about microdosing?
JF: While I have accumulated several hundred written reports over the past 7 years, in the last year Sophia developed and ran a formal study where people checked in on a daily basis. That study has 1500 people from 59 countries. We are in the early stage of our analysis of this data, and will report in more detail at the conference, but overall people report that over the course of approximately a month, they feel more positive emotions and improved health. They also report less negative emotions and many report improvements, especially from depression.
Albert Hofmann personally microdosed himself and found it was helpful for his own thinking.
Anything emerge from the data that surprised you?
JF: There are a number of surprising results that have not appeared in any of the research over the past 50 years with higher does. In a number of cases, but not all, women who’ve had painful or emotionally upsetting periods report that their periods are pain-free and normal. We also have a number of reports of people who’ve had many years of migraine headaches tell us that those headaches are greatly reduced in intensity and number. A number of students have reported that they have improved their grades and can focus more easily on schoolwork. We expect more surprises as we go through the summary reports written by people in our sample.
How did this project get off the ground? What drew you to study microdoses, rather than full-on psychedelic trips?
JF: I learned from a friend, Robert Forte, that Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD, said that this very low dose area had not been studied, and that he personally microdosed himself and found it was helpful for his own thinking. I had devoted some large part of my career to research with full doses and like every other high-dose researcher had ignored this low-dose area. One of the striking differences is that microdosing, produces none of the classic psychedelic visual effects nor does it lead to major therapeutic breakthroughs or mystical experiences. It seems, however, to improve general health.
The theme of the upcoming Altered Conference in Berlin is “Altered States, Crisis And Opportunity.” Do you think the altered state induced by psychedelics — including both microdoses and full-blown trips — help us confront the numerous crises of the modern age?
JF: High-dose psychedelics taken in a safe and supportive setting almost inevitably lead people to care more about themselves, nature, and one another. We need as much of that as we can get. Reports from people taking microdoses often described that they are kinder to those they care for and have more compassion for those they don’t. Once again, these are vital aspects of human nature that benefit us all.
Where full-blown psychedelic trips often shatter long-held assumptions and induce deep questioning, microdoses are much less dramatic. Many people use low doses for a boost in productivity and creativity during a normal workday. Some purists would argue that microdosing this way merely reinforces the embedded power structures of capitalism and the 9-to-5 grind. Any thoughts on the contrast between psychedelic revolutionaries and microdosing worker bees?
JF: The problem is deeper than your question supposes. In the 60s, psychedelic explorers were genuine revolutionaries and began the ecology movement, the woman’s movement, much of the social justice movements and the antiwar movement. I see very little of that today. However, this conference may be the beginning of resurgence of that energy. As for the idea that people who microdose support capitalism, it is hard to fault people who wish to enjoy their work more, have healthier diets, be more likely to do exercise and meditation and be less likely to use standard pharmacological medications. To say they are only doing so in capitalist countries is nonsense. We have similar reports from all over the world independent of what form their government is taking. Improving the quality of your life may be a political act, but it is not an ideological one.
People taking microdoses often describe that they are kinder to those they care for and have more compassion for those they don’t. These are vital aspects of human nature that benefit us all.
Most recent psychedelic research focuses on helping people with a medical condition, such as PTSD or anxiety. But your research project includes many healthy individuals. Do you think the power of psychedelics lies primarily in healing, or in improving the lives of healthy people? Are we limiting ourselves by focusing so heavily on medical aspects?
JF: While the goal of much of psychedelic research projects is medical, the larger goal behind all these projects is to overcome the unscientific and undemocratic repression of these substances, which we know have been used worldwide for thousands of years for healing and spiritual understanding. In our current culture, the medical profession controls much of what you put into your body. Therefore, they are the gatekeepers for now. There are also religious groups using psychedelics legally in country after country, with the same intention of having these substances used as safely and as well as possible.
Microdosing falls somewhere between the growing interest in plants and chemicals that helps well people and the continuing interest in alleviating suffering. Both groups have a great deal to learn from one another. The third group, and perhaps the largest, is using psychedelics recreationally. Perhaps in the future, they will be the group demanding and succeeding in having wiser regulations for all of us.
James, thank you so much for your time and for all that you’ve done to illuminate the depths of the psychedelic experience!
James Fadiman, PhD. has been involved with psychedelics and spent the last five years mapping the terrain of microdoses. He has run his own management-consulting firm and taught in several universities. He is the co-founder of The Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, now Sofia University.
He has written a number of books, including The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, and has just completed (with Jordon Gruber) Healthy Multiplicity: Understanding and Appreciating your Selves.
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